Whether you are a homeowner or a business owner, you may find that you need to hire an independent contractor for work that needs to be completed. Independent contractors may be builders, pet sitters, landscapers, home improvement providers, vehicle repair specialists, window cleaners, paving providers, and so on. Such independent contractors may often employ subcontractors to help perform the job.
As it pertains to most work environments, businesses may call in contractors for various tasks such as janitorial work, computer systems repair, plumbing, moving services, electrical repairs, and construction.
When companies hire contractors for certain jobs or projects, the contractor is typically paid for the task at hand instead of an hourly rate or salary – so the employer will not be providing any benefits such as a health plan or retirement plan and pays the worker in full so that the contractor pays their own taxes and fees independently.
Subcontractors are those hired by the independent contractor to perform direct tasks such as delivery of goods, masonry labor, carpentry, drywall installation, finishing work, or other specialized work. This means that the subcontractor is paid by the contractor or independent contractor. Subcontracting work is an effective method of delegating the contractual project obligations. The main contractor most likely retains all responsibility and liability for the completion of the work and the performance of the initial contract, or scope of work, that was agreed upon.
The employer, as the person who hired the independent contractor, may be held liable for the contractor’s errors or misconduct if the employer was negligent in their selection of such contractor. The employer could also be liable if the work assigned to the independent contractor is non-delegable. Non-delegable means duty which cannot legally be delegated such as premises liability obligations, maintaining a safe work environment, and reasonable prevention of conduct which could cause harm.
Contractors are often instructed by the employer or site owner, and may be provided the tools and equipment to use. This can mean that if the contractor or their subcontractor were to become injured due to the lack of proper instruction, defective equipment, or an overall unsafe work area – the site management or employer is responsible for the injury caused. Even if injuries might be covered by the employer’s insurance policy, it is common in subcontractor work agreements for the employer to attempt to hold the subcontractor liable for any injury or damage that they might be at direct fault for. This is because when businesses or independent contractors employ the use of subcontractors, it is considered to be an agreement between businesses whereas assuming that the subcontractor will have their own insurance coverage if a claim is made.
Generally, a company cannot be held responsible for injuries caused by the carelessness of an independent contractor it has hired to perform a job. However, if you or someone close to you has been hurt in an accident caused by an independent contractor or a subcontractor – and they do not have the resources to compensate for the harm – contact an attorney with personal injury experience who can fully investigate the situation. In certain cases, the person or company who hired the negligent contractor may be held accountable as well, or entirely.
Upon engaging an independent contractor’s services, the employer may face exposure to liability if it is found that the employer caused the situation due to their own negligence. The analysis considers the employer’s independent liability within their selection of the independent contractor. Employing an independent contractor does not absolve the hiring party from personal negligence if the employer failed to use reasonable diligence in choosing contractors that are competent to properly and safely perform the work.
An example of this took place in Florida several years ago in which a homeowner was the employer who hired a handyman (independent contractor). The homeowner did not perform due diligence to ensure that the handyman was capable of properly performing the work of hanging kitchen cabinets. The homeowner did not check the handyman’s references, experience, or credentials such as license and liability insurance. In fact, the homeowner only saw his truck and tools and not his name. The handyman hung the cabinets and was paid in cash as the contractor. The homeowner’s tenant was seriously injured because the improperly hung cabinets fell on them. Because the contractor couldn’t be located, the tenant sued the homeowner for negligent hiring. The case went to court and the tenant eventually secured a very significant recovery.
The case above does not infer that every homeowner who hires a negligent contractor will be held liable, but if a project that is completed improperly poses a risk, if the work is something that needs a lot of skill and training to perform, or if there is a relationship that gives the owner a duty to protect someone else from harm – then the homeowner has the important obligation to investigate and verify prior to hiring someone.
In most states, an injured party may also hold someone accountable for the work of their contractor if the work is inherently dangerous. For example, in a case that took place in Michigan, landowners hired an independent contractor to fell timber on their property. One of the contractor’s employees had his leg crushed by a falling tree. The employee sought to hold the landowners responsible. A trial court threw out the case, but the Michigan Supreme Court reversed with the finding that logging could be deemed inherently dangerous because it could not be performed without strict safety protocols in place and the propensity of causing damage.
Injury cases also depend on the sequence of events in which they occur. A situation in the state of Massachusetts involved a lumber reseller that contracted with a trucking company to deliver their wood. After the trucking company’s driver – who would be considered as a subcontractor – completed the delivery, he inadvertently caused a fatal vehicle accident. The estate of the man who died in the accident sued the lumber reseller directly with the assertion that the company was negligent during their selection of the trucking company that they hired. A federal judge in the state dismissed the case, and a federal appeals court agreed – emphasizing that the contract between the lumber reseller and the trucking company ended as soon as the driver had delivered and dropped off the lumber. Since the vehicle accident happened after the job was completed, any negligence occurred outside of the scope of the driver’s employment, thus the lumber reseller company could not be held responsible.
Each case requires thoughtful consideration of all pertinent facts. Results of any case are dependent on the details and the law, which can differ from state to state. If you or an associate has been injured due to the activity of another and wish to know if there is any possible recourse or recovery of damages to be sought, contact your local personal injury attorney at The Floyd Law Firm. While there is no amount of money that can make up for the loss of time or decreased physical wellbeing due to an injury – or the wrongful death of a loved one – our experienced and compassionate attorneys are here to help.